Saturday, May 03, 2008

Anarcho-Syndicalist Council Communism

I began by comparing Pannekoek’s council communism with Rocker’s anarcho-syndicalism in the previous post and in this line shall I further illustrate the convergence between the two tendencies upon the question of parliamentary parties and state power.

Pannekoek explains that “today belief in the party constitutes the most powerful check on the working class' capacity for action. That is why we are not trying to create a new party. This is so, not because our numbers are small -- a party of any kind begins with a few people -- but because, in our day, a party cannot be other than an organization aimed at directing and dominating the proletariat. To this type of organization we oppose the principle that the working class can effectively come into its own and prevail only by taking its destiny into its own hands.”[1]

Rocker concurs writing that “[p]articipation in the politics of the bourgeois states has not brought the labour movement a hairs' breadth closer to Socialism, but, thanks to this method, Socialism has almost been completely crushed and condemned to insignificance. The ancient proverb: 'Who eats of the pope, dies of him,' has held true in this content also; who eats of the state is ruined by it. Participation in parliamentary politics has affected the Socialist labour movement like an insidious poison. It destroyed the belief in the necessity of constructive Socialist activity and, worst of all, the impulse to self-help, by inoculating people with the ruinous delusion that salvation always comes from above.”[2]

The left-Marxist Paul Mattick explains further that “the parties of the workers, like those of the capitalists became limited corporations, the elemental needs of the class were subordinated to political expediency. Revolutionary objectives were displaced by horse-trading and manipulations for political positions. The party became all-important, its immediate objectives superseded those of the class. Where revolutionary situations set into motion the class, whose tendency is to fight for the realization of the revolutionary objective, the parties of the workers ‘represented’ the working class and were themselves ‘represented’ by parliamentarians whose very position in parliament constituted resignation to their status as bargainers within a capitalist order whose supremacy was no longer challenged.”[3]

Mattick explains that instead of a vanguard party leading the workers, the workers will themselves spontaneously create the necessary organizations required in order to give birth to the embryonic social structure of the future socialist society: “The Groups of Council Communists recognise also that no real social change is possible under present conditions unless the anti-capitalistic forces grow stronger than the pro-capitalist forces, and that it is impossible to organise anti-capitalistic forces of such a strength within capitalistic relations. From the analysis of present-day society and from a study of previous class struggles it concludes that spontaneous actions of dissatisfied masses will, in the process of their rebellion, create their own organisations, and that these organisations, arising out of the social conditions, alone can end the present social arrangement.”[4]

I do, however, agree with Mattick when he explains the role of the Groups of Council Communists:

“The Groups do not claim to be acting for the workers, but consider themselves as those members of the working class who have, for one reason or another, recognised evolutionary trends towards capitalism’s downfall, and who attempt to co-ordinate the present activities of the workers to that end. They know that they are no more than propaganda groups, able only to suggest necessary courses of action, but unable to perform them in the ‘interest of the class’. This the class has to do itself. The present functions of the Groups, though related to the perspectives of the future, attempt to base themselves entirely on the present needs of the workers. On all occasions, they try to foster self-initiative and self-action of the workers. The Groups participate wherever possible in any action of the working population, not proposing a separate programme, but adopting the programme of those workers and endeavouring to increase the direct participation of those workers, in all decisions. They demonstrate in word and deed that the labour movement must foster its own interests exclusively; that society as a whole cannot truly exist until classes are abolished; that the workers, considering nothing but their specific, most immediate interests, must and do attack all the other classes and interests of the exploitative society; that they can do no wrong as long as they do what helps them economically and socially; that this is possible only as long as they do this themselves; that they must begin to solve their affairs today and so prepare themselves to solve the even more urgent problems of the morrow.”[ 5]

Arguably one of the best distillations of the argument against state power was formulated by Rocker in the following passage:

"As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges. when this condition of social injustice vanishes to give place to a higher order of things, which shall recognise no special rights and shall have as its basic assumption the community of social interests, government over men must yield the field to the to the administration of economic and social affairs, or to speak with Saint-Simon: 'he time will come when the art of governing man will disappear. A new art will take its place, the art of administering things.'
And his disposes of the theory maintained by Marx and his followers that the state, in the form of a proletarian dictatorship, is a necessary transitional stage to a classless society, in which the state after the elimination of all class conflicts and then of classes themselves, will dissolve itself and vanish from the canvas. This concept, which completely mistakes the real nature of the state and the significance in history of the factor of political power, is only the logical outcome of so-called economic materialism, which sees in all the phenomena of history merely the inevitable effects of the methods of production of the time. Under the influence of this theory people came to regard the different forms of the state and all other social institutions as a 'juridical and political superstructure' on the 'economic edifice' of society, and thought that they had found in that theory the key to every historical process. In reality every section of history affords us thousands of examples of the way in which the economic development of a country has been set back for centuries and forced into prescribed forms by particular struggles for political power."[6]

[1] Party and Working Class by Anton Pannekoek

[2] The Objectives of Anarcho-Syndicalism by Rudolf Rocker

[3] The Masses and the Vanguard by Paul Mattick

[4] Council Communism by Paul Mattick

[5] ibid

[6] Anarchism Its Aims and Purposes by Rudolf Rocker


Renegade Eye said...

I agree with what you said in the comments at the last post. What matters most is what happens on the ground.

During Mayday, my comrades marched in a contingent with the IWW. We picked up on their slogans.

Locally we cross paths with, and have big fights with Maoists. They don't respect decisions made democratically that they disagree with. In the Mayday coalition, our slogans won. They volunteered to make the leaflet. Their finished leaflet didn't have our slogans. They said they took too much room. That is not the kind of disagreement we'd have with a group as the IWW.

I didn't really know what left-communists were, until some came to my blog. Maryam Namazie in practice is one. Our comrades in Iran, are with them (Maryam's group) in every fight.

I'm not saying you are in the IWW. I'm using it as an example, of how to disagree.


JDHURF said...

The IWW and your experience with it is a perfect example of the sort of constructive convergence I argue is theoretically possible and, as is evidenced by your own personal account, by every means practical and realistic.
I highly, highly recommend that you read more about the left-communists, who in many ways descend from Rosa Luxemburg, Gorter and the like through Pannekoek, Mattick and so on. I would certainly recommend Anton Pannekoek and Paul Mattick, especially their work which I cited. You might just come to find that you agree with a lot of it. has a great library on both Pannekoek and Mattick.

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your personal anecdote, it was perfect.

Joseph said...

Very interesting post. I wish I had the time to write like this. This is the only thing I miss from grad school.

By the way I have moved my blog from blogger to squarespace. Here is my new URL:

I just wanted to update you on my new space so you are welcome to delete this comment once you have read it. keep up the good work!
Your friend,